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CODEX + ARRI ALEXA 65


65mm cinematography has continued to set the standard for image quality, becoming an object of desire for directors, cinematographers and producers. Fortunately for cinema lovers, digital technology is enabling a resurgence of this wonderful format.

ARRI now offers the ALEXA 65 – the same familiar camera body style, the same reliable Codex recording technology and workflow, but with a 65mm sensor that is about three times larger than the ALEXA sensor. Plus new 65mm lenses to go alongside it.

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Q & A WITH FRANZ KRAUS

We asked ARRI managing director, Franz Kraus, on the ALEXA 65 inception.

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Let's begin with the concept for the ALEXA 65 camera. When did the idea originate and why?
Following the success of the ALEXA we wanted to build a camera for the most demanding applications in filmmaking and envisioned a true 65mm format camera, sharing as much as possible the technology and imaging attributes of ALEXA. This consideration began shortly after the introduction of the ALEXA but materialised not more than one and a half years ago. We wanted to maintain the dynamic range, colorimetry and all the successful features of the ALEXA. But we also wanted to add as much resolution as possible and to revisit a format we already had brought to market 25 years ago with the Arriflex 765. And we wanted to have a true 65mm sensor. A digital 65mm capture system is far less complex and expensive than the 65mm film version. It is more or less just the expense for the dedicated 65mm camera and its lenses. No expensive film stock, processing, reduction printing or scanning; only sufficient storage capacity and data handling. 

I know you have a great interest in colour science and how an image looks with your background in image technology. What parameters did you establish?
Probably the most important factors for ALEXA's success are the wide latitude photosites. We tried to come as close to motion picture film negative, or even exceed it, because we knew about the value of having this wide exposure latitude. It makes shooting easier and it provides better images in the end. Another important factor is colour reproduction; both parameters are of equal importance and go hand in hand. Some of the dynamic range needs to be traded for good colour reproduction. If you don’t do that, you might lose colour consistency in the low and highlight areas.

Because we DPs are always obsessing about look, how would you define the look of this new large-format camera? Is it the fact that it’s a different depth of field, that it has greater dynamic range, higher resolution or better colour rendition?
It has all the good attributes of the 35mm ALEXA and matches its images perfectly. In addition, it captures lots of fine detail. Aside from the resolution all other imaging attributes are identical to those of the ALEXA camera family. In terms of resolution our focus was on minimum alias to achieve the most authentic reproduction of complex real world scenery. As film - due its random grain structure - lacks of alias by design, 65mm film images were the reference for the design of the optical low pass filter. If you have enough photosites you can design an optical low-pass filter where you give away some of the resolution and thereby avoid any aliasing. You could have higher resolution of detail, but that would produce some aliasing. This is a trade-off each manufacturer needs to address. And if you look at available cameras, you’ll see differences in all of them.

How did you come up with the name for the new camera?
ALEXA 65, that is a simple one, because by its nature and build it is a true ALEXA and 65 because it is a digital replica of a 65mm film camera, where 70mm was the distribution format.

How will this 65mm digital format be distributed?
It’s the same file as an ARRI ALEXA (35mm) file. It just has more data. It’s very compatible with the ARRIRAW workflow. It will be a RAW-only camera, because we are opting for the highest possible quality, not only highest resolution, but best colour rendition and best dynamic range, without any compression artifacts. The camera will generate a serious amount of data. Handling that will not be easy, will not be inexpensive and that might limit the number of projects that will be able to afford it.

Please explain the workflow.
The ALEXA 65 is a camera system, comprising of a camera body, a dedicated 65mm lens package and a dedicated Codex Vault image processing and storage unit. The Vault will handle RAW data from regular ALEXAs as well as from the ALEXA 65. Offering a complete capture system as a rental package ensures best overall performance and quality of service. We want to provide a complete system rather than offering bare bones camera and then forcing everyone to add various building blocks.

This is a turnkey system?
It needs to be. And for the first productions, there will be an expert on set to make sure that everything works to its best performance level with the minimum amount of technology based distraction.

Is the special effects world changing? Up to now they were mostly saying they wanted to work in 2K, but it seems like there is a lot of interest from the special effects world in this new camera. 
The high resolution, low noise image free of artifacts will be very suited for plate shots, because it allows for reframing, zooming or stabilising. Things that have been done in the past with VistaVision can be done digitally now, and I dare say, with even better quality.

I can imagine some very high end commercials would also like to use this because agency art directors always love to blow up the image.
I am quite confident about this application. I also see good opportunities in special venue productions like launch films for automobiles or in fashion, where perfect images need to fill huge screens.

Will the ALEXA 65mm camera be rented only from ARRI? Are you possibly going to offer it for sub-rental from the major rental houses?
The ALEXA 65 will be marketed as a complete system from the ARRI Rental Group exclusively. There will be a Business to Business rental model, as we also want to service our customers, who usually buy our products. But again it will be the complete system.

You’ll never sell this camera?

Never say never. But seriously, when we first started looking into the market for such a camera, the interest in purchasing was very small. Almost all of the rental houses said, “Well, if you do it, and if we have shows, it would be great if we could sub-rent.” But the interest from our customers in actually investing in and owning a 65mm camera was non-existent. And that was the reason why we offered the project on an exclusive basis to our rental group. They committed to and financed the project.

How does this camera position ARRI in the current business?
At the risk of repeating myself, the ALEXA 65 is building on the success of the ALEXA, adding in a huge amount of alias-free resolution. If, for example, you want wide opening shots that stay onscreen for a long time, then this camera will truly “show off.” Giving directors and cinematographers the ability to create that unique beautiful 65mm look and also to enable extreme VFX – these are the use cases the camera was designed for. We want to make sure that we have an offering for the very high end of filmmaking.


 
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VAULT LAB 65


"The glory of 65mm lies not only in the increased resolution and grandeur of epic vistas, but the intimacy and detail with which the format embraces the human face! And what conveys our stories more than those two worlds?"

Gregor Tavenner - shooting 65mm


FILMS SHOT IN 65MM


"A sample of films shot in part, or wholly in 65mm. You might be surprised.




SENSOR SIZE COMPARISON


"Compare the sensors of comparable camera formats, with the ALEXA 65 in orange



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WHAT MAKES ARRI RENTAL UNIQUE?

Codex has been uniquely positioned to watch the launch and success of the ALEXA 65 with our partner ARRI Rental. This amazing camera has already been used on movies like The Revenant, Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Snowden. We recently talked to CEO Martin Cayzer...

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What makes ARRI Rental unique?

With ARRI celebrating its 100-year anniversary next year, that history brings a tremendous depth of knowledge and longstanding customer relationships. To have an ownership that has been in the same family since the very beginning brings a continuity and understanding that is totally unique. Although ARRI Rental is not in itself 100 years old, being part of the ARRI Group gives us access to that history, culture and understanding.

Has the ALEXA 65 changed people’s perceptions of ARRI Rental?
Yes, I think it has, along with some other initiatives we’ve undertaken.

Until a few years ago, each ARRI rental operation around the world had a different brand – ARRI CSC, ARRI Media, ARRI Rental Deutschland etc. It was a collection of well run businesses, but more of a loose confederation than a unified and connected global group.

The name change to ARRI Rental for each of our businesses is an outward sign that we are now a much more integrated global group. However, the big changes have happened internally. We made the commitment back in 2012 that we wanted to better serve our customers as they travelled around the world as part of the increasingly global film & TV industry. We wanted them to feel that whether it was Berlin, London or Atlanta, the ARRI Rental sign above the door would signal the same high level of service and technology.

Also, we wanted to move from being a rental company to a rental company that innovates technology. We wanted to develop customized and specialist technology that wasn’t easily available elsewhere to support our creative clients. The ALEXA 65 was the first significant project with that intention.

ARRI had talked about this for a long time but decided it just wasn’t viable as a sales product. It would be very expensive to develop (and therefore sell) and also required new lenses and workflow to make it a complete system. In late 2012 ARRI Rental evaluated the project and decided to take a massive leap and exclusively fund and commission its development as a rental only camera system.

We wanted to maintain the dynamic range, color imagery and all the other successful features of the ALEXA. But we also wanted to add as much resolution as possible, to scale it up and to revisit a format ARRI had already brought to market 25 years ago with the Arriflex 765.

We wanted to have a true 65mm sensor – a digital successor to the larger film formats of 65mm and Vistavision. Size matters and a larger real estate, giving as much resolution as possible, was our aim – still utilizing the same pixels as the standard ALEXA, but a lot more of them.

In fact, our original prediction at the start of the project was that we were developing a digital version of a Vistavision film camera which would be primarily used for VFX, large vista shots, landscapes – where resolution was critical. However, as the ALEXA 65 has exactly the same image characteristics as a standard ALEXA, the majority of the 30 feature films that have used the ALEXA 65 so far have also used it as the Main Unit A-camera.

Crucially, for us this was never just about a camera; it’s a camera system. We took on the task of developing a 65mm lens program that covered the full sensor with our partner IBE. Those lenses have been very successful and we are now in the process of developing more new lens systems and reworking older glass to give a full range of optics.

And of course, we worked closely with Codex for the development of a Codex Vault, which not only manages regular ARRIRAW but also handles the large amount of ALEXA 65 RAW data.

It is a complete package, which could only be brought about by a technology collaboration between ARRI Rental, ARRI R&D, Codex and IBE. Also, ARRI Rental announced in 2015 a collaborative venture with IMAX. ARRI Rental and IMAX are jointly developing a customized ALEXA 65 for use on IMAX productions - a natural successor to IMAX’s rich heritage of 15-perf 65mm filmmaking.

I think this has been the most important factor that has changed the perception of ARRI Rental – that we can innovate and work with world-class technology partners to make small-volume, complex technology available to our clients.

Has the camera rental business changed in the last few years?
That’s a good question. Certainly the development of digital single-sensor camera systems has democratized the business, with many new camera rental companies emerging over the past five years. Competition is fiercer than ever and also the range of technology available is growing every year.

This makes it an ever-more challenging environment for us. We have to integrate rapidly changing and diverse technology into our business – making sure that all our staff members are fully trained and that we have the appropriate test equipment and systems.

Also, the business is more geographically diverse and mobile than ever, with global production hotspots appearing and disappearing mainly due to the competitiveness of local tax incentives and currency movements. We are responding to that with local, professional support solutions for our clients.

However, even with all this change, for ARRI Rental the fundamentals still remain the most important for our future: well-trained and motivated employees, an entrepreneurial spirit, strong, loyal partnerships and a fierce commitment to the continuous development of new technologies.

What does the future hold for ARRI Rental?
The last four years have been quite a journey for us; consolidating and improving our businesses around the world, opening new offices, bringing aboard new talented employees and developing new camera, workflow and lens systems.

The next four years will be much the same and will build on this; we plan to open further offices and with support from our partners, really establish ARRI Rental as a technology leader.

With the development of the ALEXA 65, we have seen an enthusiastic embracing of large format cinematography that has not been easily available in the digital world until now. The format esthetic, the resolution and the wide choice of optics we believe will continue to be popular – especially as the management of the large files it produces becomes easier and easier. This will continue to be a substantial development for us and we will create systems that can be available to a wide range of productions – not just big budget, VFX-heavy feature films.

However, the most important aspect of the future is continuing to attract dynamic and experienced new employees to join our team and to help support this growth. Technology and our people have to develop hand-in-hand for us to have success in the future. We also visited ARRI Rental’s facility in Secaucus, New Jersey where we met Chris MacKarell and Lynn “Gus” Gustafson. Both were heavily involved in the development and roll out of the ALEXA 65 and the accompanying Codex workflow. Like Martin, both emphasized the combination of people and technology that underlies ARRI Rental and has made the ALEXA 65 so successful. Chris, one of ARRI Rental’s workflow experts, explained that without a streamlined, reliable workflow, the ALEXA 65 would not be successful. Codex had proven themselves with the ALEXA XT and so were the natural choice. Codex Vault had the horsepower to keep up with the approximately 2.6 TB hour needed. Chris and Gus both also wanted to mention the contribution of the late Bill Lovell, an early champion of the ALEXA 65 project, who sadly passed away before his vision was realized. 
 
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ALEXA 65 LENSES


"The initial rental package will include a set of 8 primes and 1 zoom. The lenses began life as Hasselblad HC lenses made by Fujinon for the Hasselblad H5D. ARRI and IB/E Optics re-designed, re-mounted and re-housed the lenses in the new ALEXA 65 XPL mount (64mm diameter, 60mm flange focal depth).

The original lenses were completely stripped and basically only the optical elements were used inside the housings. Focus uses a smooth cam mechanism. As Manfred Jahn, ARRI’s project leader on the lenses said, “They have to feel as smooth as Master Primes.”



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"I cannot express how enthusiastic I am about the ALEXA 65. I am currently working with 65mm film and if the quality is anywhere near that of film we will all benefit from the increased information and quality of image."

Robert Richardson ASC

 
 
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Q & A WITH MARC DANDO

We asked Codex managing director, Marc Dando, for his take on the 65mm format.

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When did ARRI ask Codex to become involved with the ALEXA 65?

It must be over 2 years ago I first had discussions with Franz Kraus about how a digital 65mm camera would make the format much more accessible. Things got serious at Camerimage 2012 when I discussed the idea further with the late Bill Lovell from ARRI Media who was very excited about this camera system. My last conversation with Bill was about the camera. 

Have you always been interested in the 65mm format?      
As you know, I am a big movie fan and some of the most iconic movies of all time that happen to also be my favourite movies – 2001: A Space Odyssey – for example, have been captured with this format. As I’ve observed the transition from film to digital from up-close, I’ve hoped that digital capture would aim to match the image quality of this amazing film format. It was a shame that technical and budget reasons stopped this format being used more often. The ALEXA 65 system will change that.  

Are there particular movies you would encourage people to see in order to appreciate it?
The obvious choices are 2001, Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur. I’d also encourage people to see Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, shot by Vittorio Storaro ASC. It wasn’t all shot with 65mm but I think the format was used to great effect for certain scenes. And then of course recently there’s been The Dark Knight Rises and The Master. 

You talk to a lot of cinematographers – what do you think will be the response to this camera?
I think for many it’s the digital camera they’ve been waiting for. I was talking to Bob Richardson ASC recently – he’s shooting with 65mm film on a project right now. He said “I can not express how enthusiastic I am about the forthcoming ALEXA 65 - I am currently working with 65 film and if the quality is any where near that of film we will all benefit from the increased information and quality of image.” This I think just about sums up what people will think.

What were the challenges, if any, in being involved with this project?
Fortunately at Codex we’ve been working with large files since the company started – one of the first cameras we supported was the Dalsa Origin 4K. For the ALEXA 65 camera, the RAW files are 31 MB per frame. The data rate is 733 MB/s. So obviously we needed a robust recording format with solid state drives that were rock solid in sustaining the required data rates, at frame rates of up to 60 FPS. This put us close to the cutting edge of technology but it’s a place we are absolutely comfortable being. The recording media we created for the ALEXA XT, the Capture Drive, is robust and available. 

How important was it to Codex and ARRI to build on existing tools and formats – Codex Capture Drives, Codex Vault, the ARRIRAW format?
Really, really important. Our customers and users would expect nothing less from us. The ARRIRAW format has become standard and productions and post houses are comfortable using it. Codex workflows have become standard and so there will be no learning curve as this camera rolls out to productions. As Neil Fanthom from the ARRI Rental Group says, “the uncompressed 65mm imaging format of the ALEXA 65 demands a high performance, cost-effective workflow to ensure that post production processes and budgets are kept under control.” Given our history of collaboration plus Codex’s widespread adoption, ARRI were confident that Codex could provide this. And we’ve strived to provide some standardization so that a new camera like the ALEXA 65 doesn’t mean re-inventing the wheel. 

In the quest for next generation cinema, what’s more important – resolution, dynamic range or high frame rates? Or are all required?
These are all tools that cinematographers and directors can use to tell better stories. In a perfect world we would have all of these things and the plan is to provide a continuous development program that allows us to improve as we go. Of course we also have others to consider for a next generation camera, the requirements of visual effects are extremely important now, filmmaking is about collaboration. We also have many more delivery platforms to support now, from smart phones to higher resolution displays. Cinema has some fantastic new display technologies coming soon. Dolby Vision, for example, requires cameras like the ALEXA 65 to bring a better experience to the viewer. 

What about workflow? How important is it that the camera is backed up by a rock-solid workflow? 
It’s absolutely critical. At Codex we’ve focused on providing reliable workflows for digital cameras and this is no exception. In fact, with the data requirements of this camera, workflow is even more important. DPs understand this - Bob Richardson told me that the Vault Lab 65 is vital for the workflow. We’ve spent years developing reliable workflows so that filmmakers can be confident that their digital negative is secure. Modern filmmaking requires a solid technology background, when you are capturing multiple terabytes per day you need to plan – producers need to know the digital negative is safe and post support for production is making a massive change from the past. New systems need new solutions with the same guarantees you would expect from a lab in the past.
 
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